- 2019 Sep 18
10 Signs You Are Enabling Your Adult Child’s Bad Behavior (And How to Stop)
By: Jennifer Maggio
The moment I gave birth to my 9 pound, brown-eyed, overly-chubby, bouncing baby boy, I was in love. Like most moms, the joy of holding his soft hands in my arms and snuggling his sweet face into mine far outweighed the fears and worries that I knew would be part of our journey. As a then single mom, I knew that the mountain we’d climb over the next twenty years or so would probably be harder than I could even imagine, but nonetheless, he was all mine and I couldn’t have loved him more. I don’t know if was my youth (I was only 18), my single motherhood, my lack of a mother in my own life, or my parenting ignorance, or a perhaps a combination of all the above, but over the course of the next many years, I created a habit of enabling my son that took many years to break.
Like other enablers, I didn’t intend for that to be the case. I only wanted what was best for him. But I think my guilt over the lack of his biological father in his life, or maybe just sheer exhaustion, created this ability to me to enable him. Because of my own journey, I can now see with radar lenses the parent who is enabling their child’s bad behavior and how even the smallest of children can be enabled or encouraged, but rarely both.
The following are 10 signs you may be enabling your adult child. Consider each.
- You accept responsibility for his failures. We all fall short of God’s glory and thereby, we all will make mistakes, including our children. However, an enabling parent will internalize every mistake a child makes as somehow “our fault”. We weren’t good enough as a parent. We beat ourselves up that we constantly failed. Now, that’s not to say that we haven’t made some parenting mistakes. Of course, we have. But every failure our adult children have is not directly tied to them.
- You are an endless supply of money for your adult child. When I was 18, I became a mother. I moved out. And I was never permitted to live in my family home again. I bought a $500 car that broke down weekly, seemingly. My dad’s only financial support was buying me a used mattress. There would be some that would say that that was simply awful and how dare my dad treat me in such a way. However, I have a different perspective. My years of scraping pennies and knowing there wasn’t an endless supply of money at the ends of my dad’s wallet taught me much about managing money. It taught me stewardship and responsibility. So, why do we think that we must be the solution for our adult children’s money problems? I have seen parents exhaust savings accounts, forego retirement, and skip vacations to keep their adult children afloat. What’s worse is that it often never ends!
- You are easily manipulated. Do you believe everything your adult child tells you, although he/she hasn’t been honest in the past? Did he/she “lose her wallet again?” Did he get fired, again, from that rude, unyielding boss because he’s so unfair? Sometimes the enablement of our adult children is worsened by our naiveté or ease of manipulation. Be savvy. Be wise. Be prayerful about when your adult child isn’t being honest with you.
- You frequently make excuses for his/her behavior. Is Johnny always late to functions? Does Madison always snap at guests and visitors? Does he/she fail to sympathize with others’ pain or challenges? No, it is not always because your adult child had a bad life. Yes, they may have faced passed hardships, such as an absentee parent, trauma, death, abuse, or loss, but such occurrences aren’t a license to forever treat people poorly, or have you to constantly make excuses for their behavior.
- You complete tasks your adult child should complete. Wow, this list is endless. Some items could include laundry, dishes, cleaning, taxes, school/college projects, or scheduling doctor’s appointments, hair appointments, and the like. While none of these tasks, in and of themselves are life-altering, the trend of constantly taking care of tasks that your adult child should be handling is one that will leave you exhausted and he/she ill-prepared for the real world.
- You are exhausted. Okay, so exhaustion can be spearheaded by countless reasons, included physical ailments, lack of sleep, stress, etc. But the type of exhaustion I’m speaking of is in specific regards to your adult children. Is your task list much longer than it should be because you are handling much of their affairs? Are you emotionally worn out, because you spend time fretting and worrying about your adult child’s decisions and potential future consequences? The constant to and fro of enabling an adult child wears on us emotionally, spiritually, and physically. If you hear your adult child’s name or see their number surface on your phone, do you immediately feel a sense of dread or overwhelm? If so, it is a good indicator that you are enabling your adult child.
- You are controlling his life. I remember standing in the parking lot of my son’s high school chatting with another mother about our sons’ impending graduation. The other mother made a comment, “I guess I’m going to have to go to college with XXX. These extra assignments are killing me!” I smiled and may have even laughed, but as I drove away, I was saddened for her. I had once been there – completing projects and attempting to control every facet of my son’s decision-making. It isn’t worth it. We do our children no favors when we attempt to control their lives, their decision-making, their future selection of spouse, or their friends. You won’t be around forever to control the outcome of every situation for your adult child.
- You allow your adult child to control your life. This is just the opposite of the previous point. Do you struggle with the freedom to enjoy your life, because you are so busy worried about your adult child? Do you forego vacations, because you worry that your adult child may need you while you are gone? Do you spend much of your time worrying about what your adult child is doing or who they are doing it with? The lack of healthy boundaries in an adult-child relationship that integrate control and manipulation are key indicators that enablement is transpiring.
- You have failed to prepare your adult child for the future. You will one day pass away, as will we all. Have you prepared your adult child to make decisions alone? Manage money well? Parent his own children effectively one day? Be the man of the home, leading in a Godly and way (or alternatively prepared your daughter for independence?
- You have failed to let go. I am reminded of Proverbs 22:6’s instruction to train up a child in the way they should go. The operative word here is Go. Go. Go. It is our duty as parents to let them go. Give them the freedom and great opportunity of serving the Lord their God. Allow them to discover life and all its riches and joys. Allow them to fail and grow into better human beings, because of those failures.
So, what do you do when you read this list and the response is, “Yep, that’s me. Check. Check. Check.”? The short story? There’s hope. Confession time: I’m a recovering enabler. I spent far too much time on my child’s school projects. I was too interested in the sporting events and the winning at all costs. I controlled doctor’s appointments and friend choices. And guess what? I became flat-out, utterly, exhausted. I had no time for my ministry, my husband, or me. I had to learn to let it go. As with many difficult decisions, it wasn’t easy, but it was well worth it. I have been parenting since I was 18 years old. I went straight from childhood to parenthood. I had never actually enjoyed my life, as an adult, apart from being a mother. Yes, of course, you are always mom (or dad), but you are not always parenting. Parenting ends with a season. You can love your adult child, offer Godly counsel, when asked, and enjoy their company, but you can let go of the active parenting season, once they reach adulthood.
And guess what happened once I did? It didn’t kill my adult child or me! Our relationship strengthened, because life was no longer all about him. I enjoyed the new-found freedom to go on vacation, pick up new hobbies, or not answer phone calls, when I wasn’t in the mood to talk. Does he know I love him? Yep. Is he better equipped to handle the rest or his life, once I finally let go? Yep. Did he always like the boundaries I implemented? No. Does he still love me? You better believe it!
So, go moms. Be free. Enjoy your life as an empty nester. You’ve earned it.
Jennifer Maggio is author of four books, mother of three, and wife to Jeff. She is a national speaker and founder of the international nonprofit, The Life of a Single Mom Ministries. She is an abuse survivor who is passionate about women finding a life of complete freedom in Christ. For more info, visit www.jennifermaggio.com.
- 2019 Sep 04
Okay, you finally have it – your purpose in life, that thing God has called you to do on this earth! You are beyond excited. You cannot wait to start this new single moms’ ministry, outreach, group, or Sunday School class at your church for single moms. You cannot wait to bring the masses to the Lord through your efforts. You schedule your meeting with the necessary “higher-ups” of the church, be it the pastor, assistant pastor, women’s ministry team, or volunteer coordinator. Now, what should you present in the meeting?
First, we highly recommend reading The Church and the Single Mom book. Many churches do not have single moms’ ministries because they don’t know there is a need. When setting up a meeting with your pastoral team, be sure you are prepared national statistics on single parenthood, Biblical references to God’s love for these precious families, and letters from single mothers on why they don’t go to church. It’s important that pastors understand that nationally 2 out of 3 single mothers don’t attend church, so while there may not be single moms currently in the church, they are certainly in the community and single moms’ ministry is a great way to reach them. Take the time to share you store and what has made you so passionate about the journey of ministering to single mothers. Once you’ve shared your story, the statistics, and Biblical references on why you believe this is the heart of God, then share the How. The Church and the Single Mom book has an entire chapter on the logistics of starting a single mom’s ministry, suggestions on frequency of meetings, when & where to meet, and much more. You having taken the time to be prepared is going to go a long way with the pastors.
What Happens If the Pastor Says Yes: The next steps are in regards to the logistical plans that includes meeting day and time, location, frequency of meeting, volunteer team, childcare needs, meal preparations, teaching curriculum, and the overall structure of how the meetings will go. The Life of a Single Mom Ministries has removed all the guess-work from starting this meeting. We provide a Comprehensive Single Moms’ Ministry Kit that includes a teaching DVD from our founder, customizable CD for flyers & print materials, Best Practices, books for your volunteer team to read, a 200-page workbook of things to consider before you launch, and a handy carrying tote to keep your materials together. This is where we recommend starting. Arm yourself with the tools necessary to get the job done! Additionally, this kit details all the tips our founder used a decade ago that grew her local single moms’ support group from 3 single mothers to several hundred single mothers, one of the largest single mom’s groups in the nation! Trust us, you want this kit!
Next, you’ll need to consider teaching materials (and we have a host of different Bible studies, too!), a launch date, fundraising, volunteer training, and whether or not you want to a large singe moms’ event for kick-off.
What Happens If the Pastor Says No: You’ve cast your vision, shared your ideas, and waited for the shared excitement, cheers, and hand claps. And then….. it happens. Silence. Blank stares. A “let-us-think-about-it” response. What do you mean ‘let me think about it’?! I mean, God has spoken. You think to yourself, as you quietly leave the meeting frustrated, hurt, and confused. As time passes (and silence persists), you may even get a little angry. How dare they not want to reach the poor, the single mom, the disabled, the grieving (whatever your people group may be)!
Our Founder, Jennifer Maggio, was once in your shoes. Once she finally embraced the calling and had the courage to sit down with pastors, she was so disappointed to not see them quite as excited as she was. Weeks passed. Months passed. A year passed. Time made her all the more angry. Single moms are struggling, Lord. Why don’t they get it?, she often prayed. It was during this prayer time that the Lord spoke to her heart , “Because you get it!” It was in that moment that God reminded her that his timing was perfect and to be a graceful and patient “waiter”. Today, we are so happy to report that she did launch that single moms’ program and it is because of its success that The Life of a Single Mom Ministries exists!
No doubt about it. The wait is challenging, but here are a few tips to help you navigate gaining support gracefully and patiently.
– Your passion is God-given. Because you’ve walked through the journey of single parenthood or you have someone in your life that has, God has moved you with compassion to minister to others in similar situations. Doors will eventually open. Just watch and see how God moves mountains for those He loves. You don’t have to constantly talk about it, wrestle with the idea, or even fret that it will one day happen. Just trust that God loves single mothers and wants them ministered to, so He will open the door in His perfect timing. Part of how you handle that timing with being mature and respectful in the waiting will be critical to if and when you are the one that leads it.
– Pastors are busy. They are stretched in hundreds of directions with needs and demands and appointments. It is almost impossible for most pastors to keep up with the demands on their schedules. (And many passionately sojourn for Christ and get very little thanks and much criticism). His first thought, when you present the idea could very well be all the logistical challenges such as who will run it, where will the finances come from, is this really need, will I have to oversee this? Give him time to marinate on your new idea. Give him time to pray and solicit God’s direction. Give him time to even process the request. (It’s probably the 30th meeting he had this week).
– Pray for your leaders. Don’t get angry, bitter, or frustrated. Pray and wait. Wait and pray. Don’t kill your witness by being an anxious, pushy “waiter”. You will feel much better about a “no” or “not now” response from your pastoral team, if you can pray with a pure heart for things they are facing in their personal lives, for God’s favor, and for their eyes to be opened. Ask them how you can serve them. What are things that are needing to be done in the church? Consider doing those. This will exhibit to the pastoral team that you are a willing servant who is also submitted and respectful to their authority.
– Educate your pastoral team on the statistics that affect your particular people group, but do so lovingly and respectfully. Many churches do not have single moms’ ministries because they don’t know there is a need. When setting up a meeting with your pastoral team, be sure you are prepared. This is why we highly recommend reading The Church and the Single Mom book first. It is full of national statistics on single parenthood, Biblical references to God’s love for these precious families, and letters from single mothers on why they don’t go to church. It’s important that pastors understand that nationally 2 out of 3 single mothers don’t attend church, so while there may not be single moms currently in the church, they are certainly in the community and single moms’ ministry is a great way to reach them.
– “Not now” does not mean “no.” Again, it sometimes takes time. Be patient. Recognize that there is much to be learned in the wait. Focus on what God wants to do in your heart and life to prepare you for this season. Are there areas you need to grow? Do you need to understand more of the Bible? Do you need to forgive someone who has hurt you? Do you need to work on not getting offended so easily? Take this time to work on you.
– Consider that you may not be the right leader. This is the absolute hardest one to consider, because God has birthed a passion in you. But the truth is, sometimes the passion is just for the presentation of the idea and for you to help with single moms’ ministry, but not always for you to be the primary leader. Is God calling you to find the right leader? Is He calling you to be the assistant leader or a faithful volunteer to serve the primary leader? Maybe it simply isn’t your season to lead. Do you love single moms’ enough to help get a single mom’s ministry going without leading?
- 2019 Aug 21
Single moms, do you sometimes feel like you are one event away from losing it? If one more thing --- just one more – doesn’t go well, it’s going to tip you over the edge! Does the stress of parenting alone often weigh so heavy on your shoulders that you battle depression and perpetual feelings of sadness? You are not alone. The U.S. National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health found in research that the prevalence of moderate to severe depression was significantly more pronounced among single mothers by 28.7%. This concludes that single mothers are more likely to experience poor mental health than partnered mothers, and the primary factors associated with this are the presence of financial hardship, overwhelming stress, and a perceived lack of social support. (Can you say exhaustion?)
This is probably not surprising news to those single mommas out there reading this, as you are in the trenches of daily parenting and already know the struggles. As a former single mom who once huddled in the middle of my small bathroom floor of my government-issued apartment and contemplated taking my own life, I can relate. It’s important to recognize that your, while difficult, can be successful. What do you do if you are already battling depression or have been for some time? Or maybe you aren’t fighting depression currently, but you once were, or fear you could be? Then, this list is for you.
While I’m not a medical professional (and this list is certainly not intended to take the place of medical advice), I’ve been there, done that. I’ve struggled with depression and came out on the other side. In fact, it’s been more than two decades since I’ve struggled with it, so read on.
- Get regular cardio exercise. Yep, we already know that we’re supposed to be doing it. However, many adults find reasons not to. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s dietary guidelines, Less than 5% of adults participate in 30 minutes of physical activity each day; and only one in three adults receive the recommended amount of physical activity each week. University of Toronto PhD candidate George Mammen co-authored a review of 25 different research articles, which show that moderate exercise can prevent episodes of depression in the long term. The compilation of research is published in the October issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. How much research do we need to tell us to get off the couch and get moving?
- Eat healthy, including plenty of vegetables. Again, no earth-shattering information here. Yet, when I’m conversing with single mothers who battle depression, I often ask about their diet and exercise and find that it leaves much to be desired, to say the least. Not only is eating healthy critical to your physical health, it is closely linked to your mental well-being, so make the commitment to grab some fresh produce for snacking. (It’s great for the kiddos also!)
- Hold honest & transparent conversations removing the veil of perfectionism. I’ve said it early and often. Perfectionism is a bondage. The burden to keep it all together is too much for anyone – man, woman, single, or not. You can’t hold it together all the time. None of us can. It’s quite therapeutic to hold honest conversations with those around us about our struggles and failures. Don’t keep it to yourself. There’s great freedom in confessing your burdens. Let others carry the load with you!
- Attend church regularly. Hebrews 10:25 encourages us to attend church regularly, as Christians and so does a host of other Scriptures (You can check out a few here). According to the U.K.’s Spectator Health website, research articles have indicated that regular religious service attendance is associated with a 30 per cent reduction in depression, a five-fold reduction in the likelihood of suicide, and a 30 per cent reduction in mortality, over 16 years of follow-up.
- Attend a Bible study. Not only does regular Bible study attendance enhance your understanding of God’s word, which I’ll get to in a moment, but if gives you a place to be regularly, giving you accountability, fighting isolation, and posing an opportunity to forge new and meaningful friendships with those who have similar views.
- Read and meditate on the word of God. God’s word is life. It’s truth. It’s how God speaks. It’s who He is on paper. The Creator of your soul, the One who knows your mind and thoughts, inspired the words on every page. If you want to battle depression successfully, learn to think the way God thinks. Learn to speak the way He does. Learn the truth about who He says you are through His words.
- Take the time to breathe deeply. Concentrate on filling your lungs with high volumes of air and slowly releasing. Deep breathing has been linked to excellent physical and mental health for many, many years. Take a moment now and fill your lungs with as much air as you can possibly contain within them. Yep, now. Just do it. Trust me. That’s it, deep breath. Now, hold it for just a moment. Slowly begin to release the air from your lungs. Even one deep breath often feels like a weight has lifted from your shoulders. Imagine if you took the time to breathe deeply on a regular basis!
- Ensure proper sleep and periods of rest. Sometimes, it’s easier said than done, but getting proper sleep is crucial to your overall mental health. You cannot think and function appropriately, when your body has not had the time to properly rest. Sleep deprivation is linked to depression, crankiness, and even severe physical ailments, such as heart disease. You can check out that list here.
- Volunteer to serve others. In Mark 10:35-45, Jesus teaches about serving others. In fact, our Savior even washed the feet of those he was teaching and leading in an ultimate act of service to others. It’s important. Volunteering allows our perspective to shift from ourselves to others. It refocuses us on the things we do have, not the things we lack. We are often redirected to see the needs of others and not focus so much on the needs we have. Volunteering is also a great habit to develop with our children.
- Get regular fresh air. Staying cramped inside your home all day, or even in the office, can make you stir crazy. Commit to walking outside every single day, even if only for a few moments (in poor weather conditions). The fresh air (along with that deep breathing we talked about) will do you a world of good. Sometimes, the flutter of a bird’s feathers in a tree or the warm sun on our faces is just the comforting we need to know that God is with us, sees us, and that all are challenges will one work out in some way.
- Journal. Keep a record of your thoughts. Write letters to God about your cares and concerns. Write notes to yourself as forms of encouragement when you need them. Write letters to the kiddos that you may give to them many years from now. Transposing your thoughts from your head to paper will give you a sense of release, often necessary to reduce stress. Plus, journaling is a fun way to go back and look at where you once were and all God has done for you through the years.
- Attend a single moms’ support group. The Life of a Single Mom’s mission is to see no single mom walk alone. There is power in the gathering. There is hope found among single moms who have similar stories and life experiences. That’s why our ministry has worked with more than 1,500 churches throughout the U.S. and beyond to establish single moms groups. Find a group at get connected here.
- Nurture friendships. I’ve been blessed to have the same 3 friends for more than 3 decades. Yes, I have had great friends come and go through the years, as seasons have changed and perhaps geography or life experience separate us. And even with those same 3 friends that I’ve had (since grade school), there have been ebbs and flows regarding the number of times we see each other, chat by phone, or connect. But if something happens, I know I have them. I know they are praying, and ready to take on the world on my behalf, if necessary. That’s reassuring. Maybe you are reading this and don’t have great friends right now. That’s okay. Make it a point to get some. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been hurt. We were created for relationship and you need friends. That’s why attending a single moms’ support group (or some other like-minded group) is so important.
- Get counseling. While I know that not everyone has access to professional counseling services on a regular basis due to the costs associated with such care, I do want to highlight that there are other options. There are websites that offer free live chats with licensed professionals, 800 numbers that can offer anonymous counseling, and some churches and nonprofits even offer free and low-cost options. At the very least, find a trusted and wise friend who can offer Biblical counsel and a listening ear. While lay counseling cannot replace skilled medical professional care, having someone who can offer you wisdom can improve your overall life situation, particularly from those who have lived out similar life experiences.
- Get proper medical care. Don’t skip annual appointments or ignore ailments. Physical and mental health are closely related. Your physical health impacts the way you feel about yourself. Poor physical health can skew perspective. Don’t skip the annual exam, even if you think nothing is wrong. If finances are a problem, many local health units offer screenings, as do local nonprofits. And most importantly, don’t ignore nagging ailments, such as pain in the body, inability to sleep, etc.
- Fast social media. Let go of the hours of scrolling and comparison and failure to simply live life. Life is about living and being present. I am deeply, deeply saddened by the state of our social media consumption and phone usage. I have sat restaurants and purposefully looked around, only to be met with scores of head tops as people gaze, zombie-like, into the gateway of the internet, for hours, and hours, and hours. Letting go of the social media for a season will do wonders to change your perspective, focus, and even give you that opportunity to go outside and get some fresh air!
- Read a devotional specific to single moms. The Life of a Single Mom offers a number of single mom devotionals and Bible studies that have been designed just for you. Struggling with parenting techniques? We’ve got it? Struggling to find peace in the midst of chaos? Check. Want to learn how to create a budget and stick to it. Yep. The Life of a Single Mom offers both books for purchase here and free ebooks here.
- Develop hobbies, especially apart from your children. Learn to sew. Take up adult coloring. Join a running group. Create origami. I don’t care. Learn to have interests beyond your children. Many single moms begin struggling with depression as their children age and develop their own lives and interests (sports, moving away to college, etc). And if we aren’t careful, we’ll even burden our children with our happiness! Ouch. Find some things that you enjoy doing and do them regularly.
- Create a gratitude jar. Get a simply mason jar or other like container and a stack of index cards. Every day, choose one thing in your life that you are thankful for. Air. Clothes. Car. A place to live. Amazing children. Dirty dishes that indicate full bellies. Friends. Church. Each of us have thousands of things that we can fall to our knees and praise God for. Take the time to write them down. (Hint: During particularly dark times, go back and read what you’ve written).
- Eliminate (or minimize) toxic relationships in your life. We can’t do much about our crazy aunt Judy. She’ll always be our aunt! But we can minimize our time around her, if she is bringing toxicity into your life. Maybe that means you only gather during the holidays or other obligatory family events. But let’s take it a step further. Many single moms are in romantic relationships that do not bring life and joy, rather hurt and pain. There are relationships that we chase that we know draw us away from the Lord and kill our self-worth. There are times when the simplest and yet most effective way to eliminate the depression battle is to eliminate the bad relationship. Yes, I know it’s hard. But the joy and freedom that come (after the healing from the break-up) can be life transformational. (Note: I am not, in any way, shape, or form, promoting divorce. I am addressing already single mothers here).
- Choose life-giving music. Not only is music critical to your spiritual health, it’s important for your mental health. How can you absorb hours of profanity, lust, and violence and have it NOT impact your outlook? While some genres of music are not as overtly violent, many genres today highlight lifestyles that do not honor God. The more we pour that into our souls and spirits, the more heavy a Believer can become. Choose music that uplifts, encourages, inspires. It’s out there.
- Laugh. A lot. Nothing, and I do mean, nothing is quite like the deep belly laugh that is so outrageous and robust that you nearly wet your pants! The joy of learning to laugh again is just that – joy. Even in the midst of true despair, financial hardship, and tragedy, choose to find the funny. Look for the odd. Laugh at yourself and the silly things you’ve done or said in your past. Learn to giggle. Do yourself a favor and follow “John Crist” and KevOnStage on social media. They are hilarious Christian comedians. They’ll get the laughter going.
- Care for your physical appearance. Okay, at first glance, this one may seem vain and unimportant, but physical appearance is important. I’ve been in homes of those I loved when they have failed to bathe for days on end. The heaviness of life’s circumstances leave them unmotivated to bathe, comb their hair, or even dress and get out of the bed. Taking the time to brush your teeth, style your hair, and dress each day may seem trivial, but it says to the world (and to you) that you’re ready to take on the challenges of the day. Maybe you don’t feel ready to take them on. That’s okay. The act of preparing to be ready is kinda like the old adage “fake it ‘til you make it.”
- Minimize television consumption. There’s a reason they call it the “boob” tube. I’m convinced we’re all losing brain cells while we stare incessantly at the latest reality tv garbage or home makeover show. Of course, I’m not suggesting all television is bad, but I am highlighting that the consumption of hours and hours of television is not good for your mental or physical health. Make it a point to establish strong boundaries for yourself on how much you watch. Choose to read instead.
- Seek medical attention. If you are suffering from severe clinical depression or are battling suicidal thoughts or actions, seek immediate help. Go to your local hospital emergency room. Don’t ignore it.